Is this what success looks like in Washington?
Bradley Blankenship
U.S. President Joe Biden. /Getty

U.S. President Joe Biden. /Getty

Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on January 3 that U.S. military forces "successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation" that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of ISIS. This, Biden says, will make the American people and its allies safer and all Americans involved in the operation returned home safely. 

The problem, however, is that Syrian rescue workers reported that at least 13 people including six children and four women were killed in the clashes that ensued.  

While a statement by a U.S. official to Reuters that suggests ISIS forces detonated a suicide bomb seems plausible on its face, the context of continual U.S.-led missions that kill civilians, yet are described as "successful," raises serious questions.  

Days prior to this operation, a study by the conservative RAND Corporation think tank slammed the U.S. military for "considerable weaknesses" and inconsistencies in its review of military operations that killed civilians. This comes after an August 29 drone attack in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, and was initially praised by Biden as a success.  

The U.S. military has still not put out any information to dispel eyewitness accounts that U.S. military personnel were responsible for a significant amount of the civilian deaths that occurred during the August 26 Kabul airport attacks launched by ISIS' Afghan branch, ISIS-K, which preceded this drone attack.

There have also been reports about patterns of civilian harm in Syria that suggest the U.S. military committed war crimes, including killing non-combatants and bombing civilian infrastructure. 

Syrian soldiers stand guard near a damaged building in the southern city of Daraa, Syria, September 12, 2021. /CFP

Syrian soldiers stand guard near a damaged building in the southern city of Daraa, Syria, September 12, 2021. /CFP

"DoD (the Department of Defense) is not adequately organized, trained, or equipped to fulfill its current responsibilities for addressing civilian harm," the report concluded. RAND noted that the military's approach to responding to civilian harm "has considerable weaknesses in key areas and is inconsistent across theaters," adding that investigations often fall to undertrained personnel.  

In response to this mounting criticism, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum asking for a "mitigation and response" plan for civilian harm in the coming months, with the creation of a civilian protection center later in the year. Key parts of these reforms will reportedly involve diversifying the information that the military uses to plan operations.  

The fact that the president himself can continue to apologize for, and even praise, the operations that result in such egregious civilian death suggests that these institutional reforms will mean very little. The problem goes much deeper than the reform level and is interlinked with the fact that the U.S. is such a chauvinistic country hellbent on global domination.  

Tying into this, this operation is also not as consequential as the White House suggests and there are other things the administration could do right now to ameliorate the suffering of Syrians and make the world safer. Killing the leader of ISIS does not really do much to change the situation on the ground in Syria nor its knock-on effects in the United States. 

Of course, Biden, who is sitting at an obscenely low approval rating, needs any boost he can to help him and his party in what is expected to be a brutal mid-term election season this year. This, plus his constant need to brush off criticism from the opposition Republican Party about being "soft" on foreign policy, is obviously why he is playing up this operation. But that's about where this ends, in terms of its significance. 

The reality is that if Biden wanted to help improve the security situation in Syria and bring the country's decade-spanning conflict to a close, he would withdraw U.S. military forces, which are, by the way, illegally stationed in the country. One of the key factors that are artificially prolonging the war and making it impossible for the country to rebuild and refugees to return home is the U.S. military occupation, plus U.S. sanctions. 

The Syrian conflict is the world's deadliest this century and its continuation is a stain on humanity. It also means that security in West Asia – and, to be sure, the entire world – suffers as long as the conflict continues.  

Yes, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi receiving justice in some form is surely a good thing. But, to call his assassination successful when so many innocents died is wrong, and saying this makes anyone safer while the U.S. alone is currently the driving force in the Syrian conflict is meaningless. Unless war and needless death are the end goal, the U.S. government needs to seriously reassess its definition of success.

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